Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Incentive-Based Tools

While mandates are the most certain method to change behavior, both financial and development incentives for green infrastructure can be important tools as well. Both types of incentives can stand alone or can accompany mandates; unlike mandates, incentives can influence stormwater management practices on property that is not otherwise subject to zoning or building code requirements (i.e., existing development not planned for renovation). They therefore can be a critical tool for highly-developed municipalities to spur change on private property.

Financial incentives

Financial incentives such as subsidies, grants, and rebates can make the initial capital costs needed to install green infrastructure seem less daunting to private property owners, while tax incentives can reduce costs to property owners over time. Both strategies require the local government’s having funds available, although tax incentives involve foregone revenue more than direct expenditure. Developing a financial incentive strategy may also require local governments to choose between subsidizing many properties with small amounts of money, or few properties with larger amount of money. Local governments may also want to consider whether to take a “first-come, first-serve” approach to those subsidies, or to be strategic about targeting funds to particular watersheds, neighborhoods, or land-use types that are the highest priority (for example, areas with greater urban heat islands or with high percetages of vulnerable residents). Local governments wishing to use tax incentives will need to look at their taxing authority to determine whether tax incentives are a viable option for them. City or county governments can look to the breadth of the tax authority delegated to them, and other types of governments (i.e., water utilities or regional governments) will need to assess whether they have the authority to tax at all. 

Development incentives

Development incentives such as expedited permitting are likely to make a difference only for large development projects, but those projects may have the most potential for intensive green infrastructure installation, due to their higher acreage. The effectiveness of development incentives may also depend on the amount of new development happening in that jurisdiction in the first place; smaller urban areas with less development are likely to see less change from development incentives.

Related Resources

City of Philadelphia Stormwater Incentives/ Grants

The City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has created a suite of subsidies, grants and rebates for both residential and non-residential properties to encourage more stormwater retention and green infrastructure practices.  The Stormwater Management Incentives Program and the Greened Acre Retrofit Program offer a reduced  price for qualified non-residential customers and contractors to design and install stormwater best management practices which reduce stormwater pollution and enhance water quality.  

New York City Green Roof Property Tax Abatement Program

The Green Roof Property Tax Abatement provides a one-year tax abatement for the construction of a green roof on residential and commercial buildings in New York City. The City of New York and New York State passed legislation in 2008 to provide a one-year tax abatement, or tax relief, of $4.50 per square foot (up to $100,000 or the building's tax liability, whichever is less). Amended in 2013 by New York State’s AB 7058, the tax abatement is now available through March 15, 2018. 

New York City Green Infrastructure Grant Program

New York City’s Green Infrastructure Program is a multi-agency effort led by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Grants are offered to private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City. The program provides funding for green infrastructure projects that manage the first inch of rainfall, including blue roofs, rain gardens, green roofs, porous pavement and rainwater harvesting. Private property owners in combined sewer areas are eligible for grants of up to $5 million. In order to ensure that the green infrastructure is well-maintained, grantees must sign a covenant that requires twenty years of maintenance.  Due to this covenant, the grant money continues to have a long-term impact long after the funds are disbursed.

Chicago Zoning Ordinance 17-4-1015 Green Roofs Incentives

Chicago’s zoning code awards a Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) bonus for green roofs that cover more than 50 percent of the roof area. FAR bonuses allow developers to build  on a higher percentage of the property, or to a higher density, than would ordinarily be permitted for a particular zone. Chicago's FAR is available for buildings in downtown mixed-use districts. This type of incentive does not cost the municipality any additional money beyond a small amount of staff time to assess the plans and grant the FAR bonus. For new buildings, developers can make more money by being able to build more square footage on the same plot, and the city gets more square footage of green roofs without large expense.

Toronto Eco-Roof Incentive Program

The City of Toronto in Ontario, Canada Eco-Roof Incentive Program provides grants to commercial, industrial and institutional property owners to improve the sustainability of Toronto's infrastructure and its resilience to climate change. Financial incentives are provided for the construction of green roofs that support vegetation and cool roofs that reflect the sun's thermal energy. Launched in 2009, the program supports the City's Climate Change Action Plan and complements the City's 'Green Roof Bylaw' and the 'Green Standard' by encouraging owners of existing buildings to retrofit their roofs.

District of Columbia's RiverSmart Program

Washington D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) administers a variety of "RiverSmart" programs to fund projects that reduce stormwater runoff and water pollution. The programs provide financial incentives, in the form of grants and rebates, to fund green infrastructure projects that reduce and treat stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. Although the RiverSmart program was developed to help the District address water pollution from stormwater runoff, it also supports climate resilience by diverting rainwater from the city’s stormwater system to manage increasingly heavy rainfall events. District property owners who install rain barrels, green roofs, permeable pavers, shade trees, and landscaping projects that reduce and/or treat stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces on their property are eligible for grants and rebates from these programs to offset the costs of the investment. 

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